Is there an ideal form of artistic expression?
As a writer, words are the tools of my artistic expression. Ours is different from other ways of expressing yourself. There is a fine line between art and craft. In painting as well as writing, more can be a good thing in craft, but not necessarily in art. Allow me to exemplify. How many of the greatest novels of all time were part of series? Were extremely long? Ulysses comes to mind, the exception? The same is true for painting, with the Sistine Chapel the exception even here? In general, great works of art are short one volume stories. So are the greatest paintings and sculptures. Write series? You’re probably on the crafts side of things, not that it is a bad thing. But whenever I read that “series are great for authors” I take it as a sign that money and the arts rarely go hand in hand…
Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the opening night of a new dance show at the Gothenburg Opera. Our dance company under the leadership of the amazing Adolphe Binder focuses on modern dance and they do so amazingly well.
Their latest work, a world premiere by two choreographers, still has my mind reeling. It is definitely up there among the three best dance performances I’ve ever seen in the past thirty years. I’ve not yet read any reviews, and I take that as a sign that others find it as difficult to put into words what we have seen.
The program bill included a warning, highly unusual, for strong and disturbing scenes. Within two minutes after the lights went dark, a woman got up and stormed out. Why? On stage, eight men, dressed in 17th century clergy outfits and a little boy (seen pictured) had started to use two strong search lights to look for someone and the lights were blinding us. Suddenly a “witch”, the boy pointed to someone in the audience, shouting the word at her repeatedly, and two of the clergymen went into the salon to pick her up. What came next caused the woman to storm out, and it had prompted the warning: the woman was stripped, bound to a table, and tortured until she confessed to witchcraft. It was extremely powerful and very unnerving to watch from our comfy seats, and it set our minds reeling with thoughts about equality, how we treat women (still), how the situation is for women elsewhere etc. What followed was a dance performance that pointed to how our society has changed, from the worst in our history, the witch trials in the seventeenth century, to our time, where we, at least it is suggested by the show, women take over men’s places, as long as they conform to the same traditions. There were glimpses of hope, too, it wasn’t all dark. It was an incredibly powerful performance, followed up by another, incredible, second half, dealing with loss, death and memories, albeit in a completely different mood. Modern dance often also relies on acting and spoken word, which takes some getting used to, I admit.
Normally, in dancing, the body expresses emotions, tells the story. When you add words, there’s a risk that we miss the core, that words take away the subtext which exists in body movements. As a writer, I find that difficult to accept. I also struggle with the fact that a great painter or photographer can express emotions, capture a moment in one image, whereas an author needs a thousand words, as per the famous bon mot.
Yet at the same time, I take great comfort that each art form is different. Dancing is ambiguous, at best. If dancers are too obvious, I’m bored. If a dance performance leaves me completely puzzled, I’m not impressed, as they’ve failed. A painting or a photo is different, badly executed it bores me, but a great photo or painting draws me in, yet as it communicates with my eyes, it shows me the artists vision, hir point of view, never mine. This is where words make all the difference. We may need thousands, tens of thousands even, to paint our pictures, tell our stories. But while authors obviously do have their own point of view, we can’t force it upon our readers. They’re only words. It is up to the reader to transform letters, punctuation and paragraphs into images. They bring the world to life by the force of their own imagination, and that, my friends, is the unique force of writing.
No matter which book I read, my marlin is different from yours, my Dublin is mine alone, your Middle Earth is yours to keep. I draw great comfort from that realization, and inspired by having experienced great art, I look forward to continuing to create my art for you this week.
As a writer, do you feel the same? Does it even make sense to compare different forms of art? Can we learn from each other? Feel free to use the comment section to ad your point of view, in words or images…
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Have a great week!
Hans M Hirschi
author and art lover
PS: The featured image at the top is from the same performance. Picture taken by Mats Bäcker and shows the “witches” transformed into conforming clergy.